Sviatoslav Richter

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Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Essentially self-taught until he was in his 20's, Richter was well known for his huge repertoire (at one point he had 80 programs'-worth of solo piano music by heart), his all-encompassing mastery of piano technique, and his seemingly infallible grasp of large musical forms.

Born in Zhytomyr (now part of the Ukraine) to a German father and a Russian mother, Richter played concerts and accompanied at the local opera house without having ever studied formally. In 1937, he sought out Heinrich Neuhaus, then one of the leading musical figures in the Moscow Conservatory. After hearing Richter, Neuhaus reportedly whispered to another student "This man is a genius."[1]

Richter's career brought him in close contact with the two leading composers of the Soviet Union, Sergei Prokofiev, who entrusted Richter with the first performance of the Seventh Sonata and dedicated the ninth to him, and Dmitri Shostakovich, whose violin sonata he premiered with David Oistrakh in 1968.

As one of the leading pianists in the Soviet Union, Richter was however not allowed to play in the West until the late 1950s. He made an American tour in 1960, which ended in a legendary series of sold-out concerts in Carnegie Hall. Though he continued to play into his 80's, in later years he chose to play with the score in front of him on an otherwise darkened stage.


  1. Bruno Monsaingeon, Richter, the Enigma (documentary film), 1998